The role of print and the well-crafted image in the digital world

Last week I spent a few days in Chicago working with Chip Forelli – a great photographer who starts in Analog – film – and ends in digital. We talked about the speed of digital and the loss of attention to detail and craft because of the immediacy. Digital removes a thinking step in the process as well as the old wait for the film to be developed. So you have a dearth of me-too images that all look much the same and lower quality overall because since anyone can shoot a picture, they do. And lack the polish of a thoughtful composition and high production values.

What does this have to do with communication?  Lots. In the speed at which we can execute, sometimes the art of communicating – the nuances, the emotion, color and thinking about the desired end result are lost. Both in words and pictures. Look at Chip’s work and you can feel the mood and movement. They evoke an emotion within. And combine that with well constructed words and you have something special. Something that just might connect with those that matter to you. And cause you to matter to them.

Chip commented on how glad he was to have been trained in analog – using 8×10 film, learning darkroom processes and how to visualize an image concept and manipulate the light during exposure and printing process in the darkroom – and now in Photoshop – to achieve his vision. Something is lost when you don’t have that tactile experience – to have to think a bit before shooting. Now we press the shutter and the camera does it all for us. Email the photo or print it out and voila. your done! In theory.

When there’s a time delay and it’s just a bit harder to send or create a communication, we tend to think more about what we want it to achieve. Our time is valuable so we don’t want to squander it. Immediacy removes this step, but if we’re just adding to the clutter, what do we gain? And doesn’t that disrespect the time of those we’re trying to reach? I’m arguing for less is more. Make every communication count. Make people look forward to hearing from you.

Pay attention to the details – how you weave your words together and create images that evoke emotion. Images that are memorable and distinctive. That’s how you get attention. When it’s harder to communicate it forces us to work harder to make it count. We take the immediacy and ease of the digital world for granted. Not that long ago it was much harder to spread your messages. Not everyone had access. Now everyone does – as long as they’re connected to the net. And so we have an endless stream of communication and information. In short. Way too much clutter to slog through.

Also think about the experience of holding a message, a book, a card, or an image printed on fine paper in your hand. Imagine how it feels to hold it. To feel it. To feel the indentations of the letters pounded into a page of soft cotton rag paper. To see the smooth patina of a great image that makes the words next to it more powerful. To turn the pages and hear the paper. To anticipate what’s on the next page. Like wandering down a garden path where you don’t know what’s around the next turn. Make it rewarding to reach the destination – the end of your message. Leave them wanting more versus racing to the delete key.

Google might have a long memory, but you have to search. You might not come upon letters in 100 years from ordinary people like those from the World Wars that talk about what life is like. We’ll always be able to pick up a book. To look at the books someone’s read. Or written. And get a sense of who they were as a person. Is it possible to get the same feeling in the digital world? When we’re separated by an electronic screen? Walk into Independence hall in Philadelphia where the Declaration of Independence was written and you can almost feel the presence of the authors. What if everything they did were digital? Would you get the same feeling? The chills down your spine?

We can’t turn the clock back. Digital is here and I love the freedom it offers. The ability for me to share these thoughts with you. It’s magical how effortlessly we can access the world. But there’s still a time and place for a well-crafted letter or book or image that begs to live outside the digital world. That begs for you to touch it. And that has more meaning because of the form it takes. There’s a place for craft – the art of writing. And the art of the image.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.